So you think you know puppies and what it takes to raise one? Tim Falk investigates the five things every prospective pet owner should be aware of before introducing a puppy to their family.
Everyone loves puppies, and often all it takes is just one look at an adorable little bundle of fur to know that he or she will make the perfect addition to your family. But before you decide to take that gorgeous puppy home, it’s important you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.
Owning a dog is a huge commitment and if you’ve never had a puppy before, you could be in for a surprise or two in the weeks and months to come. Let’s take a look at some of the common puppy quirks and characteristics that every prospective dog owner should be aware of before they get a new pup.
They need to be trained
Training is not just something you can choose to do for your puppy if you feel like it — every pup needs to be trained.
Dog trainer Amy Smith from Amy’s Puppy Preschool on Sydney’s northern beaches absolutely agrees. “Training is a must for all puppies.”
Puppy class will usually run for a few weeks, teaching all the basics in obedience, toilet training, nipping and biting and appropriate play. These are just the basics, though, so book the next stages of training to follow on after puppy class, Amy recommends. From coming when called to greeting new people in a calm and relaxed fashion, there are several important things your puppy needs to know in order to turn into a well-behaved adult dog.
“A well-trained dog is a pleasure to own,” Amy says. “The number-one cause of death of dogs in Australia is behaviour. Thousands and thousands are put to sleep every year, so please socialise and train your puppies. Training really doesn’t end; it’s a lifelong commitment just like the puppy itself.”
They can’t just be left in a backyard
While puppies can be adorably cute and cuddly, they can also be hard work. They’re not just possessions you can show off to your friends every now and again but just leave in your backyard and forget about the rest of the time.
First of all, puppies need to be socialised, which basically involves exposing them to a wide range of people, experiences, sights, smells and sounds in a positive way. “Socialisation is about learning how to raise a confident, easy-going puppy that isn’t scared or nervous of new people, surroundings or other dogs,” Amy says.
However, creatureclinic.com small animal veterinarian Dr Joanna Paul points out that the need for socialisation also needs to be balanced with the need to ensure your pup reaches the age when he is properly vaccinated against parvovirus, distemper and infectious canine hepatitis. “For most puppies, this is 12 weeks of age at the earliest, but it’s important to check with your vet,” she says.
The second thing puppies need is lots of interaction with you. Our dogs are social creatures and now is the perfect time for you and your pet to start forming a lifelong bond. Playtime and lots of cuddles are musts, while it’s also important to ensure your puppy is getting enough exercise.
It’s important to note, though, that this is not the time to start running marathons with your pup by your side. “Don’t push young puppies to walk too far once you start going for walks; this is especially important for large-breed dogs, whose growing joints can be damaged by overexertion,” Dr Joanna says.
They need help going to sleep
Getting your puppy to sleep well at night is a common challenge for new pet owners. If you assume that your puppy will simply settle into his new home straight away and drop off to sleep each night whenever you tell him to, you could be in for a nasty surprise.
“I find many people are still trying to put their puppies into the laundry or bathrooms from the first night they come home. They are often going for that ‘cry it out’ method,” Amy explains.
“I teach my clients to start with their puppy nice and close to them in a crate in the owner’s bedroom. An eight-week-old puppy that has been sleeping in a puppy pile for the first eight weeks of life is likely to feel very isolated and get very distressed. This could even set the puppy up for separation anxiety later on in life.”
Make things easy by starting off with the puppy in your room and after a few days of being nice and settled at night, you can start to creep the crate farther away from your bed. “Eventually, the crate and the puppy will be in the desired sleeping location, which is likely to be the laundry. Remember, a little puppy can’t hold onto the [need to go to the] toilet all night, so expect to get up a few times in the night to take the puppy out to the grass,” Amy says.
They lose their baby teeth
Did you know that puppies have a set of baby (deciduous) teeth just like we do? Born without teeth, dogs’ baby teeth start to erupt at around two weeks of age.
“These tiny, sharp teeth start to be replaced by adult teeth (of which they have 42) from around 12 weeks of age, and the process should be complete by around eight months,” Dr Joanna explains. “They lose their baby teeth starting with the incisors right at the front and work their way around to the back, and vets can use the presence or absence of baby teeth to estimate a puppy’s age.”
Dogs have two sets of teeth for the same reason humans do — tiny jaws just aren’t big enough yet to accommodate an adult set of teeth.
They require a long-term commitment
You will hopefully have heard this undeniable truth about dogs before, but the overwhelming number of pets that end up in Australian animal shelters every year means it’s worth repeating.
A new puppy really is an enormous commitment. “They are completely reliant on you to provide for all of their needs and to teach them to be polite members of society,” Dr Joanna says. “They need a significant amount of your time and can have many associated expenses long after the initial purchase.”
And while a new puppy has the potential to bring an incredible amount of joy into the family, this will only happen if you’re properly prepared, if you choose the right puppy and if you know what to expect from your new pet.
“You will need to consider how much time you will have available to exercise, train and groom your new dog, and what types of activities you will enjoy doing with him. For these reasons, adequate research is critical before welcoming a four-legged family member into your home,” Dr Joanna says.
As a dog owner, it’s up to you to raise a dog that is well-trained and doesn’t have behaviour issues; it’s up to you to give that dog the diet, exercise, grooming and vet care it needs to stay healthy; and it’s up to you to look after that dog for its entire life.
But not only do you have to research what it takes to own a dog, you also have to think long and hard about your own situation. “Always take into consideration the stability of your own living situation — is there a chance you want to travel in five years or work in another country?” Amy asks. “Do you rent or do you own? Financially, can you support a puppy? What if he needed expensive medical care — are you in a position to pay for that or will you have insurance?”
Owning a dog is life changing, Amy says. You just need to make sure that change is for the better.
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